I remember the excitement of my first trip abroad back in 1976, on a school trip to Paris, France. Another country, a different language, weird food (what did you need to do to an artichoke to eat it?). I knew I had to travel as much as I could.
I am now 42, about to give up a lucrative job and travel for a year to South America. No ticket purchased yet, house not yet let out, but the job part is now closing. My dream of an extended period of travel, adventure and discovery will now happen. If this is my mid life crisis I love it!
It is as if I have been practising for a long while to arrive at this moment. My previous trips have just been for just two or three weeks at a time. During these trips I would meet others who had no time constraints and very often did not even know where they were going next. I was totally envious.
So where have I been so far? How have I rehearsed this next big step?
1986 Europe Interailing (yep that what students of my day did, the gap year was not yet invented). The highlight was crossing the Iron Curtain from Austria to Communist Eastern bloc Hungary, and spending a few days sleeping in an old lady's cabbage smelling flat in downtown Budapest (sure her pet budgie was called Brezhnev).
1988 Yugoslavia (the bits now known as Croatia and Slovenia). Wonderful untouched landscapes and seascapes.
1989 Again Europe Interailing, but with the add on of East Berlin and Prague (this was just six months prior to the Berlin Wall tumbling). Maybe these two trips to the "forbidden" Eastern Europe, almost devoid of other tourists, planted the desire to go to places most others would not dare to set foot in.
1990 Egypt - Massive interest now developed for ancient civilisations and their relics, together with great fondness for the people and culture of the Middle East.
1991 Israel and the West Bank. Jerusalem mmm you can feel a spirituality there., and in Hebron the political tension that unfortunately still is a feature of that holy land.
1992 The old of US of A. Totally mind numbing landscapes of Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, and the red rocks of the Colorado plateau, together with San Francisco and LA.
1993 Syria and Jordon. Wonderful Damascus, the ancient cities of Petra, Palmyra and Jerash. Forget the political sensitivities, Syria is a fantastic destination for those interested in history and Islamic culture.
1994 Sam Culley born in Brussels, Belgium. From 1991 to 1996 I lived and worked in Belgium. My job required frequent trips to all parts of Europe, so have spent time in most European countries (sorry Poland and Albania I promise to tick you off the list sometime soon).
1995 Tunisia. A totally awful package holiday at a non-descript beach resort. Made the mistake of taking with me the Lonely Planet guide to the 3 Maghreb countries, and quickly realised I wanted to be in Morocco.
1998 Morocco and Iceland. See how for me one place leads to another! This was my first solo trip. I remember sitting at the back of that plane at Manchester airport listening to the engines roar into life thinking heck this is it, there's no chickenning out now. Morocco is definitely one of my favourite places on the globe. The landscape combinations of the snow capped Atlas mountains, with rolling seas of sand down in the oasis dotted Sahara was magical. In the souqs of Fes and Marrakech time had stood still, a living children's illustrated bible.
Iceland is another wow landscape destination and still a definite favourite on that hit parade. The power of nature at her rawest is to be witnessed here. Fire and ice is the descriptive cliche, but totally accurate.
1999 Romania and India. The trip in August '99 to Romania was my first abroad with Sam, then just five years of age. The reason for the trip was to stand for four minutes in the shadow of the moon, during Europe's total eclipse of the sun. It was surreal gazing at a darkened sky with a 360 degree sunset glow all around, with the sun's ghostly white corona dancing around the jet black disk of the moon.
India was totally different from anywhere I had visited previously. The heat, the pungent smells, and the crowded chaos of the place are the lingering memories. The top place (Taj Mahal aside) was the holy Hindu city of Varanassi, observing the dignified yet disorganised ceremonies to burn the bodies of the recently departed on the ghats of the Ganges.
2001 Istanbul. East meets wests in this wonderful bustling city which reminded me much of Rome with it's combination of deep antiquity and modernity. The Aya Sofia is surely one of the world's most atmospheric buildings.
2002 Peru and Turkey. Peru saw my first footsteps in the southern hemisphere, and my first in South America. With just two weeks I based myself in Cusco, the former Incan capital, and down at Lake Titicaca. Cusco and the the nearby Sacred Inca Valley were quite beautiful. The Inca Trail trek a stunning four day hike with "luxury" camping each night, is surely the best way to discover for yourself the lost city of Machu Pichu. I am really looking forward to going back to Peru to experience the many other wonderful sights and experiences on offer there.
Following a work conference in Istanbul I took a weeks trip to Cappadocia (with the heads at Nemrut Dagi added in). The landscapes around Goreme were unbelievable. Those phallic rock formations need to be seen to be believed.
2003 Vietnam and Cambodia I had no yet been to the backpackers paradise of South East Asia, but where to go? Not many go to Vietnam, so I checked it out, and it sounded precisely what I was looking for and it could be combined with a visit to the Ankor temples in Cambodia. Northern Vietnam was a delight. Hanoi, still relatively undeveloped and teeming with people, bikes and scooters, was just as I imagined SE Asia to be. This combined with the limestone islets of Halong Bay and the indigenous tribes of the north made Vietnam and real find. Ankor, what can I say, it is, still, for me the most spectacular man made sight on this planet. A lost city and civilisation, set in lush jungle; a boys own dream of what such a place should look like.